We were going to run the intro where you talk about your long history with the Houston family – but in the end I just couldn’t pass up the story about Michael Jackson giving Whitney a monkey for her 26th birthday.
(laughing) It was an event! Truth of the matter, it was an incredible party. Odd to celebrate your 26th birthday but when you are on the road… Yep, Mike handed us a monkey.
Did you struggle with guilt after Whitney passed? Thinking there might have been something you could have done to save her?
Not at all. People struggle with the loss of a loved one, especially if that person had a public battle. And if you are a person of Whitney’s caliber, your problems are publicized. But the truth of our relationship is that she gave me a platform to be able to speak truth into her life. And vice versa. I gave her all-access. Everything that needed to be said between us was said. So there’s no regret other than the sad reality of accepting that she’s gone.
Some say addiction is a disease, others say substance usage is just a coping mechanism. Why do you think Whitney did drugs?
One of the statutes I live by is that I cannot comment on something I did not see. Out of the twenty-eight years that we had been friends, Whitney never did drugs in front of me. Did we talk about everything under the sun? Sure. What I try to do in the book is take the reader on a journey of what that life is like and what she endured. Just a little bit of that journey could make someone to think, Wow, that might drive me to drink or do drugs. From morning to evening people follow you around. The pressures to be on top. It all looks so glamorous, but the glamor is only about two percent. I think the stress of life, to a person who has lost their way, can lead to doing things you never dreamed of doing.
When I talk to kids who want to be the Whitneys and Michaels and Britneys – one thing I always emphasize is to understand who you are before anyone else tells you who you are. If you don’t have that foundation when you enter this whirlwind of a business, you will lose you way. Even with a firm foundation you can lose your way. So when people see a tragedy like this I hope they understand the importance of holding fast to the values you were taught as a child—to help steer you away from decisions that lead to destruction.
You’ve worked with many celebrities over the years. If I say well-adjusted, what names come to mind?
I think maturity has a lot to do with it. Someone like Gladys Knight. Very balanced. She knows who she is. But it took awhile to get there, you know? We all make mistakes along the way, in trying to get your talent to the world – whether it’s business or personal decisions. I think the problem is that we allow our children too young to get into this celebrity lifestyle. This business is going after babies. Thirteen-year old kids should be in school. You mention Britney and it’s almost like a ticking bomb. And we can name person after person who started so young and lost their way—sports figures, singers, actors. Young people need to be in high school, going to college or learning a trade, working regular jobs because there is a lesson in those experiences we all need. If you are not grounded, you lose your way.
If Whitney had lived, do you think she would have found her way?
Yes. We were there. She was close, had been through the darkest… That’s why all of us in the inner circle were so surprised. We had been in that rough place where you wait for the phone call – but we thought she was on the other side. She was on her way. We are… still dealing with the reality that she’s not here.
Live simple. The simpler the better. Spend more time with your children. More time with family and friends. It’s OK to say no. You don’t have to always be on top. It’s OK to be number two or number five, even. Let it go. Whitney loved to sing but she didn’t love where she let the business take her.
I love the story from your book where Whitney was in a “feud” with Mariah — even though they had never met. You urge her to introduce herself at the Grammys and Mariah snubs her. But later they become good friends.
They really did! It was a lesson learned. We allow the industry to pit us against each other, but we have to rise above. I really had to push Whitney to make peace, but down the line she was so glad she did. Truth is, we need one another. I think I see better artist relations these days because we realize we have to love and support each other. Even in personal problems, we can’t live in isolation because we all struggle, we all have issues, we all fall short.
Well thanks for your time, sir. You have new music coming soon, right?
It’s a project called America, America and it’s out now. I want to try to cause people to fall in love with this country again, this great country we are blessed to live in. Wherever you stand on the issues, if you fall in love with this great country, that’s bigger than our differences.
BeBe Winans is a groundbreaking inspirational, R&B, and gospel vocalist, writer, and producer whose albums have reached platinum status. He has won six Grammy® Awards, three NAACP Awards, 10 Dove Awards, six Stellar Awards, and was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame with sister CeCe Winans. He has recorded with such entertainers as Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Pink, Brian Wilson, Barbara Streisand and many more. Winans’ new album, America America, which honors our nation’s heritage, was released by Razor & Tie on June 19th, 2012.